A Tale of Two Companies


You have to love living in the Boston/Cambridge area. In most other places “gossip” columns cover the glitterati (or what passes for such). Here they cover the goings on, hanky-panky and shenanigans at multi-million dollar biotech companies. What’s not to love?

What’s apparently not to love is working at some of these places.  I couldn’t help but notice two news articles that appeared within a few months of each other that offered profiles of two companies that were so strikingly different that I sat up and took notice.   What was so different?  Well, their science was different but I’ve grown so jaded from listening to or reading about companies that claim to be  “transformative, disruptive, innovative, game changers” that all those words generate lately are a yawn.  What was different about these two companies was how they treat their scientists.  More specifically, how they manage the most abundant product or outcome that the world of science and pharmaceuticals in particular have to offer: Failure.  

First let’s consider Moderna Therapeutics, a Cambridge darling that according to the Boston Globe (in January in any case) was the “highest valued private company in biotech.”  Feel like working for such a company?  Better think twice!  In September, 2016, The Boston Globe ( (https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/13/moderna-therapeutics-biotech-mrna/ ) reported that “..the company’s caustic work environment has for years driven away top talent..,” that there is a “culture of recrimination” there and that “..failed experiments have been met with reprimands and even on-the -spotfirings..”  And if that’s not enough, how about “..abusive emails, dressings down at company meetings, exceedingly long hours and unexplained terminations.”  I really had to laugh when I read the part about getting fired for failed experiments, because if you’ve been in science for more than 10 minutes, you know that that’s what most experiments do, and usually without any help from you.

For some reason this article was on my mind when I read a more recent piece in the March 3, 2017  Wall St Journal (https://www.wsj.com/articles/celebrating-failure-in-a-tough-drug-industry-1488568710 ) entitled “Celebrating failure in a tough drug industry.”  This was about another Cambridge company, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.  Turns out that like its peers, Ironwood, a reasonably successful ($2.5B market cap) company, is no stranger to failure. In fact, they recently got everyone in the company together after one of their major programs ground to halt and had to be abandoned. The purpose of the get-together? Insults? Recriminations? Mass layoffs? Guess again.  They held a “drug wake” to memorialize all the hard work everyone put into a program that they were going to walk away from.  

The article gives examples of other companies that do similar things.  Astra-Zeneca for example apparently has an annual “Science Oscar” ceremony celebrating “scientists who pursue promising lines of work no matter what the outcome” (emphasis mine). 

In a city where there are lots of options for talented scientists (and Boston/Cambridge is certainly that) you’d think companies would be listening to their Human Resources professionals regarding best practices for motivating creative science professionals. No organization has a formula for consistent scientific success. But if their scientists are skittish and risk averse for fear of recrimination they definitely have a formula for lost opportunity.     

Carl M. Cohen, Ph.D.

President, Science Management Associates




Science Management Associates announces a new workshop starting in the Spring, 2017!


“Hiring and retaining your science team: Interviewing, selecting and onboarding scientists, technical staff and managers.”

One of the most challenging aspects of running a lab or department is the hiring of new post-docs, professional staff and technical personnel.  So many times this is a process that is guided mostly by our “gut” feeling of who is the right candidate. And so many times we end up regretting decisions made in this way.  Since hiring decisions have such a profound effect on productivity and scientific advancement, it makes sense that we should use  discipline and methodology to guide our intuition. 

 In this half-day workshop, you will learn how to organize the selection and hiring process so that you get the data you need to make an informed hiring decision.  You will learn why over reliance on selecting for technical skills and qualifications can lead you to make poor hiring decisions.  You will learn and practice using  a simple question-based approach to assessing a candidate’s all-important “personal characteristics,”  such as their ability to hear and use feedback, their ability to manage setbacks and adversity, and their ability to manage disagreements and conflict. You will receive instruction on and practice in how to conduct candidate phone screens, and face-to-face interviews;  and on how to ‘listen between the lines’ during phone reference checks so that you can accurately evaluate both technical skills and personal characteristics. Finally, you will learn how to make sure you retain good people once you hire them.

In combination with our popular half-day workshop  “Managing your science team: Feedback, goal setting and performance review for scientists”  these workshops together  provide a comprehensive  one-day “boot camp” for scientists at all levels of advancement on how to attract, motivate and retain the best scientific staff possible.

Exciting news about the 2017 Cold Spring Harbor workshop on Leadership in Bioscience

I have been running this four day workshop since 2011 along with my skilled co-facilitator Dannie Kennedy.  I am excited to announce that in 2017 my co-facilitator will be non-other than the co-author of “Lab Dynamics: Management and Leadership Skills for Scientists,” Dr. Suzanne L. Cohen.  

Over the years,  Suzanne and I have collaborated on a number of projects besides the book (two amazing children,  life, etc.) and we are excited to be able to team up for the 7th annual CSHL Leadership in Bioscience workshop, March 24-27, 2017.  Suzanne, a licensed psychologist and group therapist, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to this new role: 

“Suzanne L. Cohen, Ed.D., is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP), Fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Association (FAGPA), and Licensed Practitioner in The Nia Technique. She has facilitated over 30 workshops nationally that focus on group leadership, group dynamics, and somatic psychology. For more than 20 years, Suzanne was a Clinical Instructor of Psychology in the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry as well as a faculty member for the Northeastern Society for Group Psychotherapy Training Program. She has served as President and Secretary of the Northeastern Society for Group Psychotherapy and was on the boards of both the American Group Psychotherapy Association and the International Registry of Certified Group Psychotherapists. Suzanne is co-author of the book Lab Dynamics: Management and Leadership Skills for Scientists (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press 2012) with her husband Carl, with whom she has collaborated to develop a variety of leadership training programs for scientists.”

Read more at www.suzannecohen.net.

In addition, Suzanne and I will be joined by Marquita Qualls, Ph.D., a scientist by training and skilled  leadership trainer and consultant. “Dr. Q” will deliver a special session during the workshop.  Read more about Marquita HERE.
For instructions on how to apply to the 2017 CSHL workshop go  HERE. The application deadline is January 31, 2017.

Carl M. Cohen
President, Science Management Associates

$3B for research: More, or more of the same?

The recent announcement   that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative plans to put this amount toward “preventing, curing or managing all diseases by the end of the century”  got my attention.  For me, the announcement raised the same question that other high profile, big dollar efforts have raised in the past: will advances come from plowing more money into doing science? How about also investing in how we do science?  

An article about the initiative in the Boston Globe  seems to suggest that Chan/ Zuckerberg are wondering  this as well:  “But many researchers are enthusiastic not just because of the funding Chan and Zuckerberg are offering, but their approach. They are pushing greater collaboration among scientists and engineers across different institutions, attempting to break down silos in models similar to those promoted by Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative.”   

So, how is greater collaboration and breaking of silos supposed to happen?  Because without that, this $3B initiative is simply paying everyone more money do what they’ve been doing (that’s not bad, it’s just not enough).

A recent article in the magazine Lab Manager “For Managers, Emotional Intelligence Trumps IQ” by F. Key Kidder makes this point eloquently. In it, Kidder quotes Thomas Cech, past president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute:  “If I had one piece of advice to give..it’s that although you’ve been hired for your scientific skills and research potential, your eventual success will depend heavily on your ability to guide, lead, and empower others to do their best work.”

Anyone who has spent an hour in the scientific world knows that simply saying “Go collaborate more, and oh, by the way, break down a few silos while you’re at it” isn’t the answer.  Like scientific skills, collaborative, managerial and leadership skills are not innate. The skills involved are behavioral and they can be taught and learned.  So let’s invest some of the $3B in the people who do the science so that they can do better science in addition to doing more of it.

 Carl M. Cohen, Ph.D.                                                                                          President, Science Management Associates


Science Management Associates announces open-enrollment workshops in Boston in October.

We are frequently asked whether our workshops are open to everyone. Since nearly all of our workshops are sponsored by companies or institutions for their own staff or employees the answer is usually "Unfortunately, no."  We are excited to announce that this October, in collaboration with the Harvard Skills Development Center, a part of the Boston Biomedical Innovation Center, we are offering three of our most popular workshops on an open-enrollment basis.  The workshops are:

October 17 at 8:00-11:30 AM: "Leading productive scientific team and project meetings"  

October 17 at 12:30- 4:00 PM: "Managing your team: Setting goals, giving feedback and evaluating scientists"

October 24 8:30 AM-4:30 PM "Negotiation and conflict resolution for scientists"

Follow the links above to read more about the workshops and for registration information. Questions? email us at carlmcohen at gmail dot com.

Nature focuses on the importance of leadership in science and highlights the work of Science Management Associates

The November 5th issue of Nature has an article entitled “Supervision: Clear Direction” by staff writer Boer Deng.  The article stresses how important management and leadership training is for scientists at all levels. Boer interviewed me a while ago for this article and I am gratified that she followed my suggestion to interview some graduates of the annual Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory workshop in Leadership in Bioscience (LIB) that I run with Dannie Kennedy.  The interviewees were Vivek Kumar (Jackson Lab, LIB class of 2015), Justin Cotney (UConn Farmington, LIB class of 2015) and Markus Seeliger (SUNY Stony Brook, LIB class of 2012).  Boer also highlights the Van Andel Research institute in Grand Rapids, MI where I ran a series of eight management and leadership workshops earlier this year for both post-docs and faculty.   

Hats off to Nature and Boer for identifying this topic as one worthy of repeated mention.  Nature previously covered this theme in March 2012 by publishing an article (“Scientists must be taught to manage” Nature, March 29, 2012; Vol.483, p.511) by Jessica Seeliger  - yes, she’s Markus’s wife, and also attended the 2012 LIB workshop –about her experience at our workshop.  Similarly, in 2014 Science Magazine also featured articles ("Learning to Lead a Lab"  and "Lab management courses: becoming a trainer") on these same themes, including interviews with yours truly.   Are we seeing the beginnings of a trend here?  

In the European Union, EMBO (The European Molecular Biology Organization) sponsors dozens of over-subscribed workshops each year on management and leadership skills for scientists.  Here in the US similar efforts are few and far between, fragmented and limited to small numbers of attendees.  Why are we so far behind? 

Carl M. Cohen

Leadership - Swedish style

In early October I met with a group of 23 mid-career scientists in various disciplines visiting the U.S. from Sweden. They were all recipients of research awards from an organization called the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research. It’s kind of like a Swedish Howard Hughes Foundation  – five years of significant funding.  But there’s a twist. The twist is that over the course of their five year funding, the awardees are expected to get training in leadership and management in the broadest senses.  This  is a requirement for receiving the research money. Quite amazing.  

This particular group was completing a swing along the East Coast (National Academy of Sciences and NSF in Washington; Rockefeller University and Cornell Medical Center in NY, Broad in Cambridge) and they asked me to have dinner with them and to talk broadly about  leading  and managing scientific enterprises.  Between bites of chicken and sips of wine we had quite an engaging conversation.   

What a role model this Swish organization is for us here in the U.S.  I’m beginning to see changes here, but slowly.  For example, I’m in the midst of running management workshops for senior group leaders in the NIH intramural research program and guess what? It’s a requirement for them to get such training every year. So why do they require it for their intramural team leaders but not for extramural grant recipients who get the lion’s share of NH funding??

Carl M. Cohen

Van Andel Research Institute - focusing on leadership



I just completed a series of eight workshops on leadership and management skills for scientists at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids Michigan.  Given over a period of two months, the workshops focused on the specific needs of post docs and faculty in a parallel series of offerings. Including our most popular workshops - negotiation, running science meetings, goal setting, feedback and performance reviews, presenting yourself and your science, and more, the workshops were very well received. These workshops at the Van Andel were the first in which all of the key modules presented at the annual Cold Spring Harbor Workshop on Leadership in Bioscience  (a four day intensive workshop for new scientific leaders) were offered at another institution. The feedback was positive and heartening - looking forward to doing more of these at other forward-looking organizations.    

Carl M. Cohen

Now accepting applications for the 2015 Cold Spring Harbor workshop on Leadership in Bioscience

Here's the link: http://meetings.cshl.edu/courses/2015/c-leader15.shtml.

Workshop dates: March 13-16, 2015. Application deadline: January 23, 2015.

This will be our fifth consecutive year at CSHL running a very successful three and a half day "Leadership boot camp" for scientists. Our target audience is scientists who are just about to make or have just made a transition into a position of leadership or authority (ie running your own lab, group, etc.) although we do consider others as well.  For many attendees this workshop is a transformative experience.    Check out the CSHL web site for more information.

Lab Dynamics workshops at the NIH

In August 2014 Dr.Cohen ran a series of workshops for NIH senior scientific managers, team leaders, Division Chiefs and Section Heads in both Bethesda and  Baltimore MD.  Three day-long workshops were offered, including "Lab Dynamics 1: Difficult conversations in the research workplace- fundamentals of negotiation,"  "Lab Dynamics 2: Effective science team meetings; Goal setting and performance review for scientists," and "Fundamentals of negotiation for science and technical professionals- reaching an agreement when none seems possible."  The workshops were sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and were attended by both intramural and extramural program staff from numerous NIH institutes.  

Science Management Associates featured in Science Magazine

Science Management Associates was featured in the February 21, and April 21, 2014 online issues of Science Careers

Carl M Cohen, SMA President, was interviewed by Science staff writer Lucas Laursen for the articles, which highlight a growing recognition of the importance of management and leadership training for scientists in all disciplines.

Read Learning to Lead a Lab

Read Lab Management Courses: Becoming a Trainer

Lab Dynamics workshops at Pfizer

In March and April, Dr. Cohen ran two workshops at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA. Lab Dynamics: Managing difficult people and situations in the scientific workplace, and Lab Dynamics: Leading scientific team and project meetings. The workshops were given to the Global Biotherapeutics Technologies division.

4th annual Leadership in Bioscience workshop at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Dr. Cohen and Dr. Danielle Kennedy ran the 4th annual "Leadership in Bioscience" workshop at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. Attended by 27 young scientists from around the world (including Mexico, Sweden, Great Britain and Cuba) this workshop provided 4 days of intensive, interactive leadership training for a group of outstanding emerging scientific leaders.

Leadership in Bioscience receives positive review in Nature magazine

The workshop Leadership in Bioscience run by Dr. Carl M. Cohen and Dr. Danielle Kennedy at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has received an excellent review in the March 28th, 2012 issue of Nature. The review, entitled Scientists must be taught to manage, was written by husband and wife faculty members who attended the February 2012 workshop, gives their personal perspective on why the skills they learned are so important and why more workshops like this are needed throughout the academic and scientific communities.